National Writer: Charles Boehm

Diego and Yimmi Chara making MLS Cup a family affair

PORTLAND – Demand for a seat to witness Saturday’s MLS Cup Final at Providence Park (3 pm ET | ABC, UniMas, TUDN) is sky-high in “Soccer City USA.” Even for some of the participants who’ll be out on the pitch.

“We still need more tickets,” said Portland Timbers winger Yimmi Chara with a smile on Thursday. “So we're looking for more.”

To be fair, the Chara family have a greater need than your average player. Both Yimmi and his teammate and older brother Diego have to account for a range of immediate and extended family members hoping to get a seat at the historic venue, and their overall list has swelled considerably for this rarest of home matches. You don’t have to speak much Spanish to understand that part.

“Muchos, muchos,” Yimmi laughed when asked about the total number. “We can't even keep count of how many there are.”

Beyond their spouses and children, the Chara brothers have made sure to reserve spots for perhaps the day’s most important guests, their father and mother, Jesus and Graciela. And whatever the final count, they’re deeply aware of just what a special opportunity Saturday represents for themselves and the entire clan, including many more who’ll be watching from afar in their native Colombia.

“We're very fortunate that our parents are here,” said Yimmi, “and that they’ll get to experience watching us play together back home. This is something very exciting for everyone.”

After a brief overlap earlier in their careers at Deportes Tolima, Yimmi and Diego have cherished the chance to play together again following Yimmi’s arrival in the Rose City prior to the 2020 MLS season. Now they’re part of an even smaller group of siblings who’ll get to contend for a league trophy in the same kit, and in the heart of the community they’ve made home, no less.

“We are very happy, very happy because this is our first final together,” said Yimmi. “It’s our first experience in this position and we will try to enjoy it to the maximum and take advantage of it. We know it is a difficult game, but we are just working very hard this week and as we play the game, just make sure that we maximize all those moments during the match.”

The duo already got a taste when PTFC won the MLS is Back Tournament in the summer of 2020. An MLS Cup on the line in Portland is on another level, though. It’s just the sort of scenario they dreamed about when they were reunited.

While Diego has become a PDX institution since arriving as the club’s first-ever Designated Player a decade ago, Yimmi has lived a more peripatetic existence, playing for Tolima, CF Monterrey, Atletico Nacional, Sinaloa, Atletico Junior and Atletico Mineiro during that time. Now his big brother is savoring the chance to give him a taste of the stability in which he’s flourished as the Timbers’ consistently excellent defensive midfielder.

“Ten years ago, we had the opportunity to play in the same team and club, and then now having the same opportunity to play in the same team again, in this league, has been really, really good for us, perfect for our families here,” Diego told earlier this month.

“Yes, he’s happy. Before he decided to come to Portland, he played in different leagues around the world, played in Mexico and Brazil and Colombia. And then now he had the ability to feel that balance, establishing in one place,” said Diego of Yimmi. “And to have me here as a teammate, for him it’s an easy way to adapt to the team and to the city, too.”

Perhaps most impressively, both brothers are essential to the Timbers’ hopes of a second league championship. Diego’s value in central midfield has been extensively documented and Yimmi’s pace, trickery and finishing capabilities have made him a valuable cog in head coach Giovanni Savarese’s transition-oriented attack.

The perfect capstone to their second season together, and the wider family reunion it’s offered them, is just 90 minutes away. Now it’s just a matter of doing the business against a balanced, assertive New York City FC side eager to rain on the proverbial parade when MLS Cup 2021 kicks off under what is forecast to be even stormier Oregon weather than usual.

“As a player, you always have pressure in every game. But I think this game, the final, is going to be special for everybody – players, the fans, the club,” said Diego on Thursday. “And we need to be ready for this opportunity.”